Day 2 of the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Girls Basketball State Championships is upon us, my fellow hoopaholics.
But I’m not prepared to delve into tonight’s matchups, not just yet. Let me diverge for a few minutes with this: Is Princess Lauvao the state’s player of the year?
Asking you and you and especially you over there (mocking Senor Pupule from the corner of the gym) is an exercise in vulnerability on my part. It may be a weapon formed against me should another player emerge as a dominant, successful playmaker in a ride to the state title this week. Really, is anyone going to supplant Lauvao, Kaimuki’s force of nature, the state’s leading scorer?
She has scored game-highs of 39 and 36 points in regular-season play. Last night, she had 31 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in a loss to No. 3 ‘Iolani. Though she needed a lot of touches to accumulate the 31, she was efficient: 8-for-14 from the field and a remarkable 14-for-17 from the free-throw line. I say remarkable because she hit the floor hard at least five times on drives against a smothering Raiders defense, and one time, she conked the back of her head hard on the floor while taking a charge.
In their biggest games, the Bulldogs got big plays from Lauvao: 18/8 with two steals against eventual champ Leilehua in the OIA Red semifinals; 13/10 with five steals in an upset of then-No. 3 Roosevelt in the quarterfinals; 19 points in a playoff win at Kapolei. Efficient, dependable — Kaimuki isn’t deep and a lot of the scoring duties fall on her — and more than just a scorer.
There are, as usual, a handful of very good players who deserve some attention when the ballots go out after the state tourney. But Lauvao has played with a big motor, and that’s on top of the chipped bone in her injured foot. She hasn’t missed a game, and even scored the 39 on Kalaheo after the injury, which had been compounded by an ankle sprain.
Historically, media and coaches have voted the player of the year off a championship team. It hasn’t really been a tight race in that sense for the past few years. Lia Galdeira won it three of the last four seasons, a brilliant, patient offensive bucket creator off the dribble, off the pass, making passes, hitting mid-range and long-range shots. Playing supreme defense. Rebounding with tenacity. Not a single complaint to a ref, teammate, coach. Ever. (That I saw.)
The exception was Maiki Viela three seasons ago when she paced Lahainaluna to the state title. And Viela was highly exceptional that season as a scoring point guard who mastered the pull-up jumper and her left-handed drive.
Has anyone this season compared to Viela and Galdeira, or even Dawnyelle Awa (who has been at least the third best player in the state during the years that she overlapped with Viela)? In the year after Viela graduated (and went on to play for Gonzaga), Awa was a clear second to her teammate, Galdeira.
The only player that comes to mind is Lauvao, who, coincidentally transferred from Lahainaluna to Kaimuki before her senior year. Last year, she got limited minutes as a Luna, though she was (in my opinion) their best slasher from the wing.
So there we have it. There are some players having the best years of their careers: Lilia Maio, Kamehameha’s fast, powerful and normally accurate low-post scorer; Alohi Robins-Hardy, another Warrior with an exquisite combination of height (6-foot-1), finesse, passing touch, shooting accuracy, ballhandling skills and shotblocking (two-time all-state volleyball setter) ability; Alex Masaquel, ‘Iolani’s springy rebounding machine and scorer, who has added the 3-point shot to her arsenal; Jade Botelho, another ‘Iolani weapon who is only a junior; Kapili Amamalin, Mililani’s aggressive, strong point guard; Nayla Long, the rugged, fast forward who may be the most physically imposing of the Trojans; Carissa McBride, the Leilehua post who had a 21/14 performance against Mililani in the OIA Red final; Courtney Kaupu, Konawaena’s reliable post with scoring and passing skills unmatched.
Those are just some of the possible POYs. There’s also Kiki Robertson of Mid-Pacific, who had a strong season, though not quite as prolific as last year, when she scored 30-plus against ‘Iolani. Konawaena freshman guard Chanelle Molina has also ascended into this level. She had 25 points in the BIIF final against Hilo.
I’ve always believed that Kristle Henry of Kauai could and probably should average at least 25 points per game, not because she needs to be selfish or impress anyone, but because she’s simply too quick for most defenders in any league. For Kauai to contend for a D-II state title, she can’t be their only scorer, and they do have multiple scorers this season. But if she breaks out with a 35-point game this week, it will not surprise me. She’s been unique since her sophomore year, when she was lights out during the Mufi Hannemann Jamboree.
I know I can’t get to every name, every outstanding baller in one post. (Aliyah Pana, anyone?) But the point is this: No player has consistently produced despite specialty defenses and knockdown defenses like Lauvao, and even if she pulls back during consolation play, she still has me convinced. It’ll be hard for anyone else to knock her from the top of my ballot. Possible, but unlikely.
I can’t prophesy whether my fellow voters will see things through pupule-tinted glasses, but it would be something else if Lauvao gets the nod. I’d have to dig through the archives to figure out the last time a POY was from a team that didn’t win the state title.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser